— Published 8 November 2022

Facing the IOC, Umar Kremlev does not lower his guard

The IOC has been warned: Umar Kremlev will not lower his guard. The Russian president of the International Boxing Federation (IBA), who is at the top of the IOC’s blacklist of undesirable managers, likes to strike back. The strategy may seem suicidal. But he wants no other.

Is the IOC threatening to remove boxing from the Olympic programme for good at the Los Angeles 2028 Games? Umar Kremlev threatens in turn. He promises chaos. He announced that the “millions of fans” of the noble art around the world would speak out against the injustice.

The Russian leader explained this in no uncertain terms on Monday 7 November at a press conference held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. For the occasion, Umar Kremlev was surrounded by three big names in boxing, past or present, including two women: the French Estelle Mossely, Olympic champion at the Rio 2016 Games; the Indian Nikhat Zareen, crowned world champion last May in the under 52 kilos; and the American legend Roy Jones Jr, his long-time ally (photo above).

Delayed by an hour due to “technical problems“, the press conference had some surreal moments. Speaking exclusively in Russian, Umar Kremlev opened the exercise by explaining that there were two great sports in the world, football and boxing. That’s right, sir. He also claimed, in the same monotone, that there are now “more than a billion” fans of the noble art. Well, yes. Not less than one in eight inhabitants of the planet.

Above all, Umar Kremlev attacked the IOC. Without quoting the Olympic body directly, he promised that “no one will keep quiet” if it tries to exclude boxing from the Summer Games programme. “As a boxing community and organisation, we will do everything in our power to keep boxing in the Olympic Games,” he promised.

Umar Kremlev also did not mention Russia and Belarus when referring to the recent decision of the IBA board to allow boxers from all countries to compete under their colours and flags. But the message was understood.

“We are a unit of people, not a separation of people,” he suggested. “When we talk about our athletes, it is important to know their nationality, to hear their anthem and to see their national flag. When sport begins, politics must end.”

Invited by Umar Kremlev to speak to the media, Estelle Mossely (pictured right) also did not hold back her criticism of the IOC. The French boxer suggested that the qualification system for the Paris 2024 Games set up by the Olympic body, with a first stage at the continental multi-sport championships next year (European Games, Asian Games…), then two world tournaments in 2024, was sorely lacking in clarity, especially for professional boxers.

I would love to participate in the next Games, organised in my country, but the qualification system is still not clear,” explained Mossely. “The IOC claims to have approved it, but none of the athletes have seen the details. We don’t even know if the weight categories, previously proposed by the IBA, will be in force.”

Another big moment was Umar Kremlev’s announcement of a possible departure from Lausanne of the IBA headquarters. The Russian leader assured that the question was under discussion, but that the final decision would be left to the national federations. Patience, therefore.

But in case of a move, a place seems to have been found: Dubai. The IBA is due to hold its World Boxing Forum there in December. The body also plans to open its first development and training office in the United Arab Emirates, based on a model that should then be duplicated on each continent.

“The United Arab Emirates will become the world capital of boxing,” announced Umar Kremlev. Farewell, Lausanne? Later in the day, on Monday 7 November, a statement from the body qualified the statement. “The IBA’s world headquarters will remain in Lausanne,” it said. Very close to the IOC.